Top critical review
7 people found this helpful
on 8 August 2008
Having read and loved "Bilgewater" I chose this Jane Gardam book for my book group, sure that it would be enjoyed by everyone. What a disappointment. Though Gardam is undoubtedly a fine writer this novel failed to satisfy. Exploring again the theme of coming of age, the story starts out with three heroines, Hetty, Una and Lieselotte (a Jewish refugee who arrives in the UK from Germany via kindertransport). The three girls then go their separate ways over the course of the summer holiday before starting university so the plot feels rather fragmented as the chapters deal with each of these girls and their experiences. They are not brought back together until the end of the book, as though Gardam suddenly realised she had some loose ends to tie up!
In parts their experiences tend to defy belief and enter the realms of fantasy, particularly Hetty's encounters with an aristocratic family fallen on hard times, and Lieselotte's brief stay with a wealthy new-found aunt in California. The main criticisms of the members of my group were that the plot seemed to be made up as it went along, and they didn't feel they got much out of the book. Our oldest member who remembers this period well (late 1940's, post-WW2) said that many of the period details were wrong. That worries me less, after all this is fiction, but I can see how that would irritate someone familiar with the era!
The main themes, apart from coming-of-age, are belonging, first loves, and leaving home, and there is a very heartfelt portrayal of a difficult mother-daughter relationship (reflecting perhaps Gardam's own problematic relationship with her mother, according to a Guardian interview). This was handled well and struck a chord with more than one of our members.
Jane Gardam is an imaginative and clever writer and because I so enjoyed Bilgewater (do read it!) I will try some of her others. So three stars for the quality of writing.